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Perfectly Cooked Fish, plus an Easy Mediterranean Recipe

Posted Aug 24 2008 3:35pm
I’m amazed to see that it’s already 3 pm on a Sunday; I’ve been meaning to post for two days. But I made the mistake of taking my (new! I’m so excited) laptop computer to a local coffeeshop on Friday to “work” while my babysitter watched Nick. I ended up scanning the newspapers and ordering more and more coffee, waiting for a crowd of boisterous students to leave. There was no sound once they left, save for the hiss of the espresso machines, and, distracted by my thoughts and the tuneless whistling of one of the workers, I accomplished next to nothing. I ended up contemplating the small vase of rather exhausted flowers on my table, then packed my bags and left, restless and post-less.



My intended subject is still on my mind, and the photos still on my hard drive, so now, refreshed from two days of beautiful weather, some rest, and lots of cooking, I’m ready to write about fish.



This isn't the fish dish I mentioned the other day (that one's coming), but is instead one that came together from what was on hand this past Thursday.



First up, frozen cod from the the freezer. I prepared it to defrost, then resumed my rummaging: a few zucchini and vine tomatoes, originally intended for a ratatouille, in the produce bin; kalamata olives in the refrigerator door (initially frightening; the olive oil had set up in the jar, giving them an alarmingly swamp-like appearance. But a quick zap in the microwave and they were restored to beauty). And finally, snips of parsley from the backyard. I checked to make sure we had the makings of a vinaigrette (mustard, lemons, olive oil), and some aromatic basics (red onions, garlic), then set to work prepping my Mediterranean roast fish and vegetables.







I’ve mentioned in posts past that I was a late-blooming fish connoisseur. When I finally came around, I was anxious about preparing it myself. One of my greatest worries when I first began cooking fish was doneness. This was especially so when I scraped together enough money for a fish splurge in graduate school; fear of ruining my pricey fillets was prompt enough to send me searching through my books for the best advice.



The most oft-quoted theory I found was this: cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. This served as a good general guideline in my early years of experimentation, but through trial & error and fine-tuning my technique, I’ve determined that 8 minutes is a better timeline.



The reason is carry-over cooking : fish will continue to cook for a minute or two off the heat. This means that the fish will be absolutely perfect if you stop cooking at the verge of doneness; cook to complete doneness and the carryover cooking will leave you with slightly overdone fish.



The second most widespread piece of advice I found was to cook fish until it flakes. I found this mistaken and misleading; it’s just far too much cooking time. In order to flake, the fish needs to be dry, and dry fish is overdone (and bland). Instead, use the tip of a small knife to peek at the interior of the fish at the 8 minute mark. It should gently resist flaking but show signs of firming. Raw fish has a translucent appearance that turns opaque during cooking. Most types of fish are considered done when they’re just opaque throughout. But fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon, can be a little less done; I can’t stand it like that, but I nonetheless understand the appeal since both varieties are so rich with flavor.



Don’t worry; it really isn’t tricky at all. In the long run, I find cooking fish far easier than chicken or meat. I’m on something of a fish kick right now, and it looks like it will be perpetuated through this week’s dinners since my friend Lindsey brought back some gorgeous Coho salmon fillets for me on her trip to Houston yesterday. I’ll share my bounty here!



Mediterranean Roast Fish & Vegetables with Lemon Vinaigrette



2 medium zucchini, cut into wedges

2 medium red onions, cut into wedges

3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges (I used vine tomatoes)

1/4 cup pitted brine-cured black olives (e.g., kalamata)

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided use

4 6-ounce thick white fish fillets (I used frozen, thawed cod fillets), skin removed

1 small garlic clove, crushed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley



Preheat the oven to 425°F.



Toss the zucchini, onion, tomato and olives with 1 tablespoon of the oil in a baking dish; season with salt & freshly cracked pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until tender and beginning to caramelize at edges.



Place fish on flat surface. Brush another tablespoon of the oil over the fish and sprinkle with salt & pepper. Open the oven door and place fish fillets on top of the vegetables. Cook 8 minutes (see guidelines above for checking for doneness).



Whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, mustard and remaining oil to make a dressing. Transfer the fish and vegetables to dinner plates and drizzle with the dressing and scatter with chopped parsley. Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition per Serving (1 fish fillet and 1/4 of the vegetables)

Calories 230; Fat 7g (poly 1.2g, mono 3.8g, sat 1g); Protein 26.4g; Cholesterol 42mg; Carbohydrate 17g; Sodium 830mg)

(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)



Nutrition Notes for Cod:

Cod, like many other varieties of white fish such as monkfish and haddock, is an excellent low-calorie source of protein (a four-ounce serving of cod provides 52.1% of the daily need for protein for only 119 calories). But because cod is a cold, deep-water fish, it is also loaded with a variety of important nutritents, most notably omega-3 fatty acids.

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